What is R-DHAP?

R-DHAP is used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.

R-DHAP comes from the initials of the drugs used:

Rituximab is not a chemotherapy drug. It is a targeted therapy and belongs to a group of drugs called monoclonal antibodies.

Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

More information about this treatment

This information is correct at time of publishing. But sometimes the types of cancer this treatment is used for, or treatment side effects, may change between revision dates.

You can talk to your cancer team if you want more detailed information about this treatment. Or visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website, which has patient information leaflets (PIL) for individual drugs.

How R-DHAP is given

You will be given R-DHAP in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you. 

During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that your blood cells are at a safe level to have chemotherapy. 

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will talk to you about your blood results and ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready. 

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. You will be given extra fluids through a drip before and after cisplatin chemotherapy. This is to protect your kidneys and maintain the balance of salts in your blood. You may also be given a drug called mannitol. Mannitol increases the amount of urine your kidneys make.

You may have the chemotherapy drugs through: 

  • a cannula – a short, thin tube the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand
  • a central line – a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by
  • a PICC line – a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest
  • an implantable port (portacath) – a disc that is put under the skin on your chest or arm and goes into a vein in your chest.

The drugs are run through a pump, which gives you the chemotherapy over a set time. You have lots of drugs and fluids when you have R-DHAP. This means you may have two drips (infusions) running at the same time.

Dexamethasone is usually given as tablets, but it may be given as a drip.

Your course of R-DHAP

R-DHAP is given over 4 days.

On day 1, the nurse will give you:

  • dexamethasone as tablets or as an infusion
  • rituximab as an infusion
  • cisplatin as an infusion over 24 hours.

You will be given extra fluids through a drip before and after cisplatin chemotherapy. This is to protect your kidneys and maintain the balance of salts in your blood. You may also be given a drug called mannitol. Mannitol increases the amount of urine your kidneys make.

Rituximab can cause a reaction in some people. The nurse will give you drugs to help prevent or reduce this. A reaction is most likely with the first infusion, so it is given slowly over a few hours. 

On day 2, the nurse will give you:

  • dexamethasone as tablets or as an infusion
  • cytarabine as two infusions, 12 hours apart. Each infusion is given over 2 to 3 hours.

On days 3 and 4, you continue to have dexamethasone as tablets or as infusions. 

After 4 days of treatment, you have a rest period with no treatment for either 17 or 24 days. Your doctor will explain how long your rest period will be. This completes one cycle of your chemotherapy treatment. Each cycle takes 21 or 28 days (3 or 4 weeks).

At the end of this rest period, you start your second cycle of R-DHAP. This is the same as the first cycle, except your rituximab infusion may be given over a shorter time.

You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Your nurse or doctor will talk to you about how the treatment will be given. They may give you a copy of your treatment plan to take home.

Going home

You can usually go home after the first 2 days of each cycle, when you have completed your chemotherapy infusions. Most people then have dexamethasone as tablets. The nurse or pharmacist will give you tablets to take at home, to complete the 4 days of treatment. You will also be given other drugs to take, to prevent side effects such as sickness. Take all your tablets exactly as the nurse or pharmacist explains.

You will be given steroid eye drops, which help prevent sore eyes. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse will tell you how and when to use them.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some that are less common.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. And you may have some side effects, including rarer ones, that we have not listed here. 

Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have. They can give you: 

  • drugs to help control some side effects
  • advice about managing side effects. 

It is important to take any drugs exactly as explained. This means they will be more likely to work for you. 

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause serious side effects. Sometimes, these may be life-threatening. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you 24-hour contact numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

Side effects during treatment

Some people may have side effects while they are being given the chemotherapy or shortly after they have it:

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. The first infusion is the most likely to cause a reaction, so it is usually given more slowly than later treatments. Before treatment, you will have medicines to help prevent or reduce any reaction.

Signs of a reaction can include:

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • shivering
  • itching
  • a skin rash
  • feeling dizzy or sick
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless or wheezy
  • swelling of your face or mouth
  • pain in your back, tummy or chest.

Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your infusion. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, they can treat it quickly.

Sometimes a reaction happens a few hours after treatment. If you develop any of these signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number.

The drug leaks outside the vein

The drug may leak outside the vein. If this happens it can damage the tissue around the vein. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important that it is dealt with quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein. 

Low blood pressure

Some people have low blood pressure while they are having rituximab. If you usually take medicine to lower your blood pressure, your doctor may ask you not to take it for 12 hours before having rituximab. Sometimes, rituximab can make your blood pressure go up. The nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

Common side effects

Reaction to cytarabine

Cytarabine may cause a reaction 6 to 12 hours after it is given. Signs of a reaction can include:

  • a high temperature or chills
  • pain in the eyes, muscles, bones, tummy or chest
  • a rash
  • sore eyes.

If you have any of these symptoms, tell your nurse or contact the hospital straight away.

Risk of infection

This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If your white blood cell count is low, you may be more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

An infection can be very serious when the number of white blood cells is low. Your doctor may give you antibiotics and other drugs to take during this treatment. These may help reduce your risk of getting an infection. 

But it is still important to get any infection treated as soon as possible. If you have any of the following symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number:

  • a temperature above 37.5°C 
  • a temperature below 36°C
  • you feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you have symptoms of an infection.

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery and shaking
  • a sore throat
  • a cough 
  • breathlessness
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine (pee) often, or discomfort when you pass urine.

It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.

Your white blood cell count will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more treatment. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time, until your cell count increases.

You may be given a drug called G-CSF. This encourages the body to make more white blood cells. You have it as a small injection under the skin.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.

If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • heavy periods
  • blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
  • tiny red, brown or purple spots that may look like a rash – these spots can be harder to see if you have black or brown skin. 

If you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need a drip to give you extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may feel:

  • very low in energy
  • breathless 
  • dizzy and light-headed. 

If you have these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need treatment for anaemia. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Feeling sick

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will prescribe anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as they tell you to, even if you do not feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.

If you feel sick, take small sips of fluid often and eat small amounts regularly. It is important to drink enough fluids. If you continue to feel sick, or if you are sick (vomit) 1 to 2 times in 24 hours, contact the hospital on the 24-hour number as soon as possible. They will give you advice. They may change your anti-sickness treatment. Let them know if you still feel sick.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect of this treatment. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it ends. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can help you feel less tired. 

If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.

Sore mouth and throat

This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number, if:

  • a sore mouth or throat affects how much you can drink or eat 
  • your mouth, tongue, throat or lips have any blisters, ulcers or white patches. 

They can give you advice, and mouthwash or medicines to help with the pain or to treat any infection. Follow their advice and make sure you:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid alcohol and tobacco
  • avoid food or drinks that irritate your mouth and throat.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Don’t worry if you do not eat much for 1 or 2 days. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, or if you are losing weight, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements. Or they may suggest changes to your diet or eating habits to help.

Effects on the eyes

This treatment may make your eyes feel sore, red and itchy (conjunctivitis). Your doctor will prescribe eye drops to help prevent this. It is important to use these as you are told to.

This treatment may also make your eyes more sensitive to light and cause blurry vision. If you have pain or notice any changes to your vision, always tell your doctor or nurse.

If you usually wear contact lenses, do not use them on the days you use eye drops or if your eyes are sore. Check with your doctor when it will be okay to use them again.

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is normal for you, or having watery or loose stools. You may also have stomach cramps. If you have a stoma, it may be more active than usual. 

If you are passing loose stools 3 or more times a day and this is not normal for you, contact the hospital as soon as possible on the 24-hour number. Follow the advice they give you about:

  • taking anti-diarrhoea medicines 
  • drinking enough fluids to keep you hydrated and to replace lost salts and minerals
  • any changes to your diet that might help. 

They might also ask you for a specimen of your stool to check for infection.

Hearing changes

This treatment may cause hearing changes, including hearing loss. You may have ringing in the ears. This is called tinnitus. You may also become unable to hear some high-pitched sounds. Hearing changes may get better after this treatment ends. But this does not always happen. If you notice any changes in your hearing, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Skin changes

This treatment may affect your skin. It may cause a rash, which might be itchy. You may notice:

  • numbness
  • tingling
  • pricking
  • a burning feeling in your skin. 
Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day.

Rarely, a much more serious skin condition can develop. You may have a skin rash which then blisters, and your skin can peel. You may also feel unwell with flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature and joint pain. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or hospital straight away.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any changes to your skin. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Skin changes usually improve after treatment finishes.

Hand-foot (palmar-plantar) syndrome

This treatment can affect the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. This is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. 

If you have white skin these areas may become red. If you have black or brown skin, these areas might get darker. 

The skin on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet may:

  • be sore
  • be painful, tingle, or swell
  • peel, crack or blister. 

If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. They can give you advice. This is especially important if you have any broken skin or if walking is difficult. They can prescribe creams and painkillers to help.

You can care for your hands and feet by: 

  • keeping your hands and feet cool by washing in cool water
  • gently moisturising your hands and feet regularly
  • wearing gloves to protect your hands and nails when working in the house or garden
  • wearing loose cotton socks and avoiding tight-fitting shoes and gloves.

Build-up of fluid (oedema)

If fluid builds up in your body:

  • you may put on weight
  • your ankles and legs may swell. 

If this happens, tell your doctor or nurse. If your ankles and legs swell, it can help to put your legs up on a foot stool or cushion. The swelling gets better after treatment ends.

Muscle or joint pain

You may get pain in your muscles or joints for a few days after treatment. If this happens, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you painkillers and advice. They can also tell you if any of the painkillers you usually take are suitable. 

Tell them if the pain does not get better. Having warm baths and resting regularly may help. 

Effects on the nervous system

R-DHAP can affect the nervous system. You may:

  • feel anxious or restless
  • have problems sleeping
  • experience mood changes
  • feel drowsy, confused, dizzy or unsteady.

Rarely, this treatment can cause seizures or fits. If you notice any of these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse straight away. 

Dexamethasone tablets can make you more alert and prevent you from sleeping. That means it is best to take them earlier in the day.  

Effects on the kidneys

Cisplatin can affect how the kidneys work. You will have blood tests before and during treatment to check how well your kidneys are working.

Before and after each treatment, your nurse will give you extra fluids through a drip. This is to protect your kidneys. 

Drinking fluids also helps protect your kidneys. The advice is usually to try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluid each day. But follow any advice from your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about how much is right for you.

Contact the hospital on the 24-hour number if you are: 

  • not able to drink as much as you have been asked to – for example, if you feel sick
  • sick (vomit) or have diarrhoea 
  • passing less urine or peeing less often than usual.

Effects on the liver

This treatment may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.

Raised blood sugar levels

This treatment may raise your blood sugar levels and increase the risk of diabetes. 

You will have regular blood tests to check this. 

Signs of raised blood sugar include:

  • feeling thirsty
  • needing to pass urine (pee) more often than usual
  • feeling more tired than usual.

Contact the hospital on the 24-hour number if you have these symptoms during treatment or after it ends.

If you already have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. You may need advice and support from your GP or diabetes team about managing this.

Less common side effects

Tumour lysis syndrome (TLS)

Some people are at risk of developing a condition called tumour lysis syndrome (TLS) during this treatment. When treatment makes large numbers of cancer cells die and break down quickly, they release lots of waste products into the blood. This can affect how well the kidneys work. It may also cause problems with the heart rhythm.

TLS can be prevented. You will have regular blood tests to check for TLS. If you are at risk of TLS, you may have:

  • extra fluids through a drip
  • medicines such as rasburicase through a drip, or allopurinol as tablets.

Drinking at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluid a day will also help.

Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

This treatment may affect the nerves in your fingers and toes. This can cause numbness, tingling or pain in your hands or feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You might find it hard to do fiddly tasks such as fastening buttons or tying shoelaces.

If you have these symptoms, always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They sometimes need to change the drug or the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment ends. But for some people they continue and are a long-term side effect of treatment.

Hair loss

Your hair will get thinner. Or you may lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as other body hair. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment.

If you want to cover up hair loss, there are different ways you can do this. Your nurse will give you information about coping with hair loss

Remember to protect your skin from the sun. Use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp. Or cover up with a hat or scarf.

Hair loss is almost always temporary. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends.

Tummy pain or indigestion

This treatment can irritate the lining of the stomach and bowel. If you have pain in your tummy (abdomen), or indigestion, let your nurse or doctor know. Your doctor may prescribe treatment to help.

To help protect your stomach, take your dexamethasone tablets with food.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works. You may have tests to check how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and after treatment.

If the treatment is causing heart problems, your doctor may change the type of treatment you are having.

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat
  • swollen feet and ankles.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. 

Always call 999 if you have:

  • chest pain, pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across the chest
  • difficulty breathing.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you develop: 

  • a cough that does not go away
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness.

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.

Other information

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • throbbing pain or swelling in a leg or arm
  • reddening of the skin in the area – if you have black or brown skin, this can be harder to notice, but the skin might become darker
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing.

Always call 999 if you have:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs called anticoagulants. These thin the blood. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information about preventing and treating blood clots.

Driving

Do not drive if you:

  • feel dizzy
  • have blurred vision
  • feel very tired.

If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor.

Hepatitis B reactivation

If you have had hepatitis B (a liver infection) in the past, rituximab can make it active again. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this and test you for hepatitis B. If you have active hepatitis B, you will not have treatment with rituximab.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful while you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as: 

Vaccinations

Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have vaccinations for flu and for coronavirus (covid). These help reduce your risk of serious illness from these infections. Most people can have these vaccines, including people with weak immune systems.

If your immune system is weak, you should not have live vaccinations. Live vaccines can make you unwell because they contain a very weak version of the illness they will protect you against. Live vaccines include Zostavax®, which is a shingles vaccine, and the yellow fever vaccine.

It is important to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice about having vaccinations. They can explain what vaccines are right for you and when it is best to have them.

Sex

It is possible that small amounts of chemotherapy may be passed on through vaginal fluids or semen. If you have sex in the first few days after treatment, your cancer team will usually advise using condoms or a dental dam to protect your partner.

Contraception

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. Follow their advice about:

  • what types of contraception to use 
  • how long after treatment you should continue to use contraception. 

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment ends. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk. 

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Changes to periods

If you have a period, these may become irregular or stop while you are having this treatment. This may be temporary, but it can sometimes be permanent. Your menopause may start sooner than it would have done. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the healthcare professional that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor or cancer team so they can ask for advice.

If you have appointments with a dentist, always tell them you are having cancer treatment. Talk to your cancer team before you have any dental treatment.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert health professionals and people living with cancer.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 February 2022
|
Next review: 01 August 2024
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.